The variables in the medium-term business environment can seem overwhelming for executives as they make future plans, but some trends are clear. To address these challenges, a mini brain-trust assembled for the panel “Business Strategies for the Next Decade” on Monday, part of the Blouin Creative Leadership Summit in New York.
Leo Tilman, Executive Chairman of Capitol Peak Asset Management LLC, likened business strategy to designing and piloting an airplane. From the cockpit, the pilots need to see the enormously complicated external environment and chart a flight course, and also design and update the internal structure and controls. As if that’s not hard enough, everything is malleable and prone to sudden change.
Daniel Fountenberry, founder and CEO of Books that Grow, an educational firm whose books change in real-time to suit the individual progress of students, talked about technology squeezing out middlemen. With the internet and ever-increasing number of apps, information can be transferred instantaneously from source to end-user, eventually dooming industries or firms reliant on intermediaries. He said that managing a declining firm — even if done well — is never fun, and added “If I was an intermediary, I’d be concerned.”
Alex Goldberg, a self-described “recovering entrepreneur” who is now an angel investor and managing director of Canary Ventures, then spoke of two types of innovation, both enabled by technology. One addresses an existing need, like his company Take the Interview, which has promising job applicants upload video responses to employers’ questions to save HR time. The other type of innovation targets an “uncrowded sandbox,” exemplified by Cignify, another of his companies, which plans to use cell phone data in developing countries to identify new potential customers for financial services. (Goldberg spoke in-depth about these companies and other developments in a recent Blouin News interview.)
In response to a question about how business strategy should address larger pressing issues like healthcare, climate change, and poverty, Tilman emphasized that firms need to go beyond CSR (corporate social responsibility, the subject of a recent Blouin News feature). While not knocking the benefits of CSR, he noted that increasingly in the future firms must integrate larger social goals into all of their operations.
This is where the emerging trend in the business community is already leading. The panelists concluded on an optimistic note: for firms today, “business as usual” automatically includes taking into account external social factors, beyond an exclusive focus on profits and shareholder value. The days of the get-ahead-by-any-means and public-be-damned business ethos are all but extinct in the developed world, and on the decline elsewhere, in large part due to greater transparency and media pressure.
Moderator Art Kleiner, Editor-in-Chief of Strategy+Business magazine, summed up the panel by saying “Nothing beats having conversations with people who see things you don’t see.” That is exactly what the BCLS succeeded in bringing about.